In Windows I would hold the ALT key to highlight non-consecutive (or non-contiguous) text pieces, but how can I achieve this in the latest OS X (mavericks)? If it's any consolation, I'm trying to achieve this in Word, however I'd like it to be a universal function if possible.
To solve your problem in Word (and TextEdit and other word processors...), just use Cmd + Select letters/words with mouse:
You cannot have a universal shortcut AFAIK, because developers need to use something called
NSTextView in their apps (which they don't for some reason beyond me...).